Ben Williams reports for MI6 from the 'Carte Blanche' Meet The Author event held by The Times at the Congress Centre in London...

Meet The Author Event Report

29th May 2011


Last night I was fortunate enough to attend the Q&A session with author Jeffery Deaver to promote the launch of the latest James Bond novel, Carte Blanche. The Times held the ticket-only Meet The Author event at the Congress Centre on Thursday evening.

Deaver, perhaps best known as a crime thriller writer, with his Lincoln Rhyme and Kathryn Dance series, might not seem to be the immediate logical choice to write a James Bond adventure.

However, his novel The Garden of Beasts won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, awarded by the Crime Writers Association Of Great Britain, and its story of an assassin, sent to Berlin with the task of eliminating a senior Nazi officer in the build up of the 1936 Olympics, has all the hallmarks of a classic James Bond thriller.

It was during his acceptance speech for this award in 2004, where he spoke passionately about the influence of Ian Fleming on his life and career as a writer, that he first came to the attention of Ian Fleming Publications.

Ian Fleming Publications later approached Deaver to write a continuation novel, and the result, just eighteen months later, is Carte Blanche.

 

Below are just some of the highlights of the Q&A session:

Q: What first interested you in James Bond?
Deaver: “When I was eight years old I picked up a paperback that my father had been reading on his commute from work. It was a James Bond novel. I don’t remember exactly which one it was now, but I do remember thinking that this was the quintessential adventure story. It had a linear, simple story of good versus evil. There was no ambiguity, and in the character of James Bond there was the archetypal hero.”


Above: Author Jeffery Deaver with the 007 Carte Blanche themed Bentley Continental GT.

Q: How much has Ian Fleming influenced you as a writer?
Deaver: “People don’t read books to get to the middle. A writer’s job is to get you to turn the page and Fleming had that. He kept his stories short and economical, used escalating conflict and kept it lean. Oh, and did I mention the Bond girls? Fleming had his finger on the pulse of what we like. Fine food, drink and beautiful women, and this are essential. I think Fleming’s philosophy was, although he never wrote this down, it is evident in his writing, that writing books is all about you guys. And that’s my philosophy, too. In the end you have to write for your audience.”

Q: You are well known for your detailed research. In Carte Blanche the details of the British security forces are spot on. Can you give us an indication of how you research your books and how important it is to your writing?
Deaver: “As a rule it takes me a year to write a book. The first seven to eight months of that is writing the outline and research. It takes months of careful planning and creating the structure. I do most of my research on my own, through the Internet and through magazines and literature. Whilst I do occasionally speak to people, I find that I don’t want their story to interfere with the carefully laid out structure of my own. I may take notes and use it for another story down the line, but usually I look for sources that tell me what I want to hear!

Obviously detail is important, but it shouldn’t be there for the sake of it. I have a rule: If it is there to enhance the character or to further the plot, it goes in. If it’s just there because I think it’s cool, it has to come out. Every now and then I will receive a letter pointing out a mistake, that how on page thirty-six you said that there was a machine gun bolted to a rail using a ¾ inch nut, but as you know they discontinued this particular nut in 1937 and replaced it…well, all I have to say to those people is: Get a life!

 


Above: James Bond creator Ian Fleming

After writing the structure and the doing the research, I spend about two months actually writing. I find this eliminates writers block. After all, you don’t get writer’s block if you know what you want to write, and that is why the structure is so important to get right. I often say there is no such thing as writer’s block, only a block of ideas.”

Q: Was it difficult as an American writer taking on the very English character of Bond? Did you find you had to make many changes?
Deaver: “I wanted the experience to be seamless for the readers. There will be two versions of the book, the British one and the American one. In the British version, I have tried hard to keep the grammar reflective of British books. For instance, I use single quotation marks in speech. There are certain Americanization’s that remain. For instance, I take the “U” out of flavour or labour. However, there are certain things that I’ve changed. In the States we say ‘counter-clockwise’ where as here you say ‘anti-clockwise’ and expressions such as ‘I should have done.’ We don’t say that in America.”

Q: How difficult was it updating Bond to a modern setting? Was it hard to update him and did you include his views on sex and morality?
Deaver: “I think that the most important thing is to like our characters, and with Bond it is vital to love him. He may be flawed, but these are traits we are so familiar with. Ultimately, I wanted to go back to Fleming’s vision of Bond, so I created a Bond bible, detailing everything I could about the character, and what I found emerging from that was his personality. Bond is suave and debonair but he is also dark and edgy. He is a man who is prepared to sacrifice himself for his country. There is a scene at the end of the novel Moonraker, where he discovers the missile that Drax has gifted to England, doesn’t point out to sea, but actually points to a place called London, which some of you may have heard of. He is cut off from help and has no way of warning, so he resolves to light a cigarette under the rocket as it is being refueled, destroying it, but killing himself. Obviously being Bond, he doesn’t have to do that in the end, but he was prepared to. Essentially, I’ve tried to make him as much like Fleming’s Bond as I can. He’s the same sort of age as Bond was in Casino Royale; he’s experienced. I kept a picture of Hoagy Charmichael next to my keyboard as inspiration.

I think one of the things that Ian would say about the update is ‘Did he have to stop smoking?’ Well, Bond isn’t a non-smoker, he’s a former smoker and there is a difference. One of the main reasons for this is simply tradecraft. I have friends in the CIA, and one of the things they tell me is their agents, or ‘assets’ as they call them, don’t smoke, unless they are somewhere where it would be obvious if they didn’t. Smoking draws attention to you, and that’s the last thing a spy needs.”

Q: Do you have a favourite Bond film and a favourite Bond book?
Deaver: “My favourite Bond film and my favourite Bond book are one and the same: From Russia With Love. I think it’s such a well-written book and the fact that you don’t meet Bond until something like sixty pages in is quite remarkable. It was very innovative and fresh writing.

Also, to have this detailed character study of Red Grant, this Russian assassin, for the first part of the book, really builds the tension. Which is why I like the film so much. I feel that it was very faithfully adapted. The plot of From Russia With Love is also very simple. The story is really just of this assassination attempt, a chance to get revenge and also how it will discredit the British, dreamt up by this Russian chess grandmaster.

Fleming had written plots involving the theft of nuclear weapons, but here he also showed he could make a very simple story engaging. The ability to do both is the real mark of genius.”

 

Carte Blanche is available in stores nationwide in the UK. It will be released in the USA on June 14th.

Many thanks to Ben Williams.
Stay tuned to MI6 for more coverage of Carte Blanche all this week.

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